TORONTO - Like any industry, the towing and collision business has its share of grinches. And it turns out it has a few Santas as well.
And thanks to a trio of caring St. Nicks, Vincent McCarthy is down on his luck no more.
A few days ago, our headline had read "No truck and no luck." The 63-year-old had lost his job, then his home and finally his truck holding some of his most precious possessions -- a file cabinet filled with artwork and cards from his kids.
It's been a string of misfortunes for the charming, guitar-playing former truck driver born in New Brunswick.
A recovering alcoholic of more than 30 years, he blames losing his driving job on his recently diagnosed sleep apnea. He'd also worked as a mover but business was slow. So he fell behind on his mortgage payments and last month, his Etobicoke house was repossessed.
He was forced to scatter his furniture and other possessions in different spots, including a storage locker and his 1995 Chevy cube van. With nowhere to go, he even slept in the truck for a few nights while parked in his old driveway until the mortgage company told him to move it -- or they would.
"I was a basket case," recalls McCarthy, who suffers from depression and what his doctor now suspects is bipolar disorder.
Of the divorced dad's five children, three are too young to help and the two older ones have serious troubles of their own. With nowhere else to turn, he finally parked his truck on a dead-end side street in Etobicoke while he went to live in a homeless shelter in Brampton.
"It was wishful thinking," concedes McCarthy of his hopes that he could leave the old Chevy there until he found somewhere to live.
Not surprisingly, after three parking tickets, Toronto Police had Bill & Son Towing haul it away on Nov. 27. And in their Atlas Ave. yard it sat for almost three weeks, racking up $72 a day in storage fees plus a $325 towing charge because the homeless man had no money to bail it out.
With the outrageous bill quickly approaching $2,000, McCarthy had gone in to tell the tow company of his string of bad luck, but theywere unmoved. Even when he asked only to remove his personal belongings from the back -- an old fridge, stove, the filing cabinet filled with memories -- he was told to hit the road. They told him that after 60 days, the truck and everything in it would be sold to cover what he owed.
It was only after Councillor Rob Ford got involved and the Toronto Sun showed up that Bill & Son Towing agreed to let McCarthy take his possessions -- but they still refused to waive one penny on towing and storing his cube van.
"It burns me up when I hear stuff like this," said Ford, who had planned to go down with McCarthy to confront the tow company tomorrow. "He's in a shelter, he has nobody, he has nothing and these guys are giving him the screws."
When the story appeared here Thursday, a woman in the industry -- too afraid to have her real name used -- called to say she was outraged. "This is the most disgusting thing I've ever seen," said "Susan."
She contacted friends in the business and they agreed something had to be done. By 7:15 that morning, as McCarthy was eating his cornflakes at the Salvation Army shelter, he got a message that help was on its way.
He's been grinning ever since.
Robert Polillo had also read the story and the owner of Express Roadside Recovery admits he was not surprised that a tow company could be so heartless, "especially in our beautiful industry."
Polillo quickly volunteered to bail him out. "I was in a position to help him and my heart told me to help him."
Polillo, 42, sent one of his drivers to pick McCarthy up from the shelter, buy him breakfast and then take him to the impound yard to pay his bill of more than $1,700.
"I've been helped before and I wanted to pass it on," he explains modestly.
"Especially at this time of year, it was hard to swallow."
Susan then called Lorenzo D'Alessandro, one of the owners of 427 Collision, and he agreed to store McCarthy's truck until the homeless man finds some place to live. He also volunteered to help Polillo out with the hefty tow bill.
"He's been rescued for now," Susan says. "Hopefully we can get this guy back on his feet."
McCarthy met his three guardian angels in person yesterday and couldn't thank them enough. "I'm elated," he told them. "I've got to pinch myself that all of this is true."
McCarthy has also had help from members of his church, the owners of Little Bit of Home Pub and Grill on Lake Shore have offered to host a fundraiser for him in the new year and his former colleagues at Dufferin Concrete called to tell him they were getting a collection together for him.
In the meantime, he's busking around the Kipling subway station singing Christmas carols and hoping to have his Ontario Works application approved next week so he can get some rent money and move out of the shelter.
"I never dreamed this would happen because of the article," says the grateful McCarthy. "It's going to be a terrific holiday after all."
And I hope it is for all of you as well.
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